Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula is a beguiling place. Here, charming colonial towns sit alongside 10th century pyramids, while nearby there are magnificent forests, rivers and coastal habitats, all extremely rich in wildlife. This is a land in which ancient ruins rise from the forests above powder-white beaches and turquoise seas, in which thousands of flamingoes take to the wing painting the sky crimson, and where the call of Black Howler Monkeys echoes through reserves managed by people whose faces bear witness to their ancient Maya heritage. It is hard to picture a place in which history and modernity are more tightly or attractively entwined, or that boasts such a pleasant all-round travel experience, with culture, food, climate and ambience all competing to delight the senses.
We begin our holiday with a flight to Cancún airport, followed by a short transfer to the coastal town of Akumal, which means ‘Place of the Turtles’ in the native Mayan language. The Caribbean waters here have long provided a sanctuary for these marine creatures, and four species of sea turtle occur here. However, during our 4-night stay, it is the Green Turtle that we may expect to see and we will have the opportunity to snorkel amongst them as they feed on the sea grass beds.
The Yucatán Peninsula boasts some of the most remarkable Maya ruins in all of Mexico and our exploration of the region’s Maya heritage starts with a visit to the ruins in Tulum, which tower over a rugged coastline blessed with exquisite beaches and tempting waters. Just a kilometre to the south of Tulum is an interesting ancient Maya archway, and beyond this lies today’s Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve. On leaving Akumal, we will spend a full day deep within this fabulous reserve, exploring its wetlands mostly by boat. Hundreds of species of tropical fish inhabit the waters here, as does a small population of West Indian Manatees, while American Crocodile sightings are frequent! The reserve is also a haven for birds, with well over 300 species having been recorded, amongst them Black Skimmer, Reddish Egret, Black-headed Trogon, Mangrove Warbler and the rare Jabiru stork.
On one day we will venture a little further inland to Coba, where we will enjoy an early morning visit to a small community reserve in the heart of the jungle. Here, the local Maya community has formed a co-operative to guide tourists around this ecologically important area that is also their home. Geoffroy’s Spider Monkeys whirl through the trees with their long limbs and prehensile tails whilst Black Howler Monkeys are also possible. As the day begins to warm up and wildlife activity subsides, we will return to Coba and its beautiful Maya ruins. The rugged temples, pyramids and ancient ball courts are surrounded by dense jungle, and for those who wish to climb to the top of the Nohoch Mul pyramid, the views are stunning. There will also be an opportunity to visit one of the nearby cenotes, the sheer number of which are a well-known feature of the Yucatán. These incredible limestone sinkholes were considered by the ancient Maya to be sacred gateways to the underworld. Whilst we do not plan on going quite that far, there can be few better ways to start your day in the Yucatán than with a refreshing morning dip in the beautifully clear water of these underground caverns.
After a final night on the Caribbean coast, we begin our journey inland and, after a brief stop in the colonial town of Valladolid, we will arrive at the charming Hacienda Chichen hotel. Here we will be perfectly positioned for a visit to the spectacular ruins at Chichen Itza, and in the early mornings we can enjoy such birds as Yucatan Jay, Keel-billed Toucan, Collared Aracari, Turquoise-browed Motmot and the attractive Oscellated Turkey. Mammals are present too, though harder to find, and a sharp eye will be required to spot the resident White-nosed Coatis or a Northern Tamandua.
After two nights at this beautiful hotel and bird refuge, we return to the coast. This time we will travel north to the Río Lagartos Biosphere Reserve, in which lies our beachside hotel. Here, we will take boat trips into the mangroves to enjoy the resident and migratory birds, explore the reserve’s wooded trails and snorkel in warm, coral-rich waters. The star attraction, however, is a concentration of hundreds, sometimes thousands, of fiery orange-red American Flamingoes that gather here. If we time it right, and are able to witness the birds as they take to the skies en masse, the horizon will glow crimson as if the sun is setting.
After nine days and a thorough exploration of this captivating corner of Mexico, it will be time to return to Cancún’s international airport, and our evening flight home to the UK.